The importance of embracing ambiguity: how Pinterest’s marketing lead survived 2020

With nominations for this year's Future 50 currently open, we profile last year's inductees. Interest in Pinterest has gone through the roof as bored users stockpile inspiration. But with the pandemic also grounding the brand’s experiential marketing efforts, Megan Kleban tells how she’s been turning the situation around.

You could say marketing is in Megan Kleban’s blood. With a childhood spent exploring sampling events and concerts in the company of her father who worked at Coca-Cola, she looks back fondly at what she now knows was the experiential side of his marketing job. “Back then, I just thought it was the coolest job ever – and, for the record, I still think young Megan had it right!”

From following her father around these industry events, she has since followed him in her career choice, first getting her break at NYC boutique PR agency DiGennaro Communications before making the switch to tech giant Facebook where she supported its speakers’ bureau program. “That was my first exposure to tech and where I fell in love with event marketing.”

Nominations for this year’s Future 50 are currently open. If you’d like to nominate yourself, or a colleague, for our list of the best rising stars and emerging marketers in the world, follow this link.

After four years she joined Pinterest, in 2018, as its global industry marketing lead. Managing industry relations, event sponsorships and industry event strategy, she supports speakers at more than 150 speaking engagements in a typical year – although as we all know, 2020 is far from a ‘typical’ year, so since March she has been faced with finding a new way to bring these experiences to life.

“I’m accustomed to thinking at least eight to 10 months in the future for events, so I had to re-evaluate how I operate. The biggest lesson I’ve learned from the pandemic is the importance of embracing ambiguity. I found most success in 2020 from times I’ve thrown the original plan out the window and just said: ‘I don’t know if this is going to work, but let’s try!’”

And so Kleban and her team have leaned into webinars, building a new channel to produce hosted content. “The question we’ve had to ask is: ‘How do you stand out when suddenly everyone is hosting webinars?’ The biggest obstacle in my mind has been finding a way to break through into our new world.”

Pinterest is the online home of tricks and tips, and with people staying closer to their homes, interest has skyrocketed.

“The pandemic has shown that inspiration is more important than ever, and people are coming in record numbers to find answers for their new reality. In 2020, we surpassed 400 million monthly active users who are looking at billions of pins, while ‘saves’ were up 40% year-on-year.”

Pinterest has always been popular with millennials, Gen X and boomers, but in 2020 it cracked the notoriously evasive Gen Z, who are driving the bulk of its growth.

“We’ve always had strength in the over-25 audience, but last year the number of ‘pinners’ aged under-25 grew twice as fast. They’re on Pinterest for social good, future growth, planning their digital identities like their home screen and wardrobe ideas.”

In the past few months, Pinterest has rolled out several new functions that align it closer to Instagram and TikTok, including a group of ‘creator-first’ functions – such as a ‘story pin’, which works similarly to Instagram Stories but doesn’t disappear.

Kleban insists Pinterest’s purpose is objectively different, however, and that it is “personal media”.

“People don’t go to post about what’s happening right now, they go to dream about what could happen in the future and actively create a life they love.”

While Facebook and Instagram have been criticized for tricking people into racking up screen time, Kleban insists Pinterest wants the opposite.

“We don’t want people scrolling Pinterest, we want them to get offline, putting what they planned into action. We invest in making Pinterest as actionable as possible.”

With people confined to their homes, she says shopping on Pinterest has never been bigger and the number of users visiting shops on Pinterest grew 50% in the first half of 2020. “Our goal is to make every pin shoppable.” The platform recently upgraded its shopping experiences and ad monetization opportunities with new adtech tools, demonstrating its dedication to expanding e-commerce opportunities.

Looking to 2021, she says the biggest challenge is planning when the path isn’t clear. “In 2020 I learned a lot about how to keep moving when everything seems to be crashing down around you.” It’s a skill that will now guide her on the uncertain road ahead.

Nominations for this year’s Future 50 are currently open. If you’d like to nominate yourself, or a colleague, for our list of the best rising stars and emerging marketers in the world, follow this link.